Tuesday morning, the Siskiyou sat down with Southern Oregon University’s President Roy Saigo in an attempt to clarify the news announced during the recent board meeting on October 16th that he will not be seeking a third year extension of his contract despite expectations that he would. The announcement was shared to a surprised group of students who had come to support his bid.
“It is the board’s responsibility, it isn’t my decision,” says Saigo.
One reason behind the move could be that SOU is currently operating without an updated strategic plan. After former president, Mary Cullinan, resigned Saigo was brought on as an interim president. With his reputation of being a “turnaround” leader, Saigo seemed to be well-suited to guide SOU through the process of forming its first institutional governing board until a more permanent president could be hired. Since then, SOU has seen some improvements, but continues without a solidified plan for the future. This lack of planning makes it difficult for SOU to move forward with changes and delays the establishment of a long-term plan, which could have some serious repercussions,“I was brought in specifically to change things here at SOU and to help it through a tough time. All that I’ve done has been to help stabilize and move us forward so we can help the next administration be successful. Consequently, I believe SOU has fulfilled the expectations we’ve had for ourselves as a whole”, says Saigo clutching a 9 am cup of coffee.
Dr. Saigo became SOU’s president during an unusual gap in leadership. His role as interim leader was to help SOU keep tight control of expenses, and also build up revenue, primarily by building up enrollment, and while happy with Saigo’s work so far, the faculty overall expressed that another year with Saigo would only delay planning for the future long term.
Statistics have shown that enrollment has risen about 0.2%, including a 17% increase in freshman; that is a group of about 835 students, which is the biggest increase seen in the past 12 years and the second in the last 20 years. This estimate is suspected to continue growing.
Being an Oregonian school, these improvements are considered very important to SOU, because of the reimbursements it will receive from the state. The immediate focal point when Saigo arrived was enrollment and retention. He formed a close, communicative team that included staff across the campus to address the issue of students and families struggling to afford college.
Another improvement that was introduced during this time has been called the “construction boom”, which is a slew of recent recreation projects. For example, the school’s Science Building underwent a $21 million upgrade and was scheduled for completion in the fall. Currently, it is still being worked on, but classes are being hosted inside. Another project that started this fall is renovations being made to the Theatre Arts building across the street. This is an estimated $11.5 million upgrade, according to Mail Tribune.
In the interview, Saigo addresses those who supported his extension and are disappointed to find out that this will not be the case, “Change is the most difficult thing in society. When change does come it creates uncertainty, and people hate uncertainty, because of the lack of stability. We need to continue to focus on the success of our students, because without our students there wouldn’t be any universities – not the other way around. SOU has really turned things around for the better, creating a culture that is positive and focusing on relationships.”
The process of hiring a new president will take place eventually, during such time Dr. Saigo says he will continue his efforts on making SOU a better university till the end of his contract in June next year, “It’s been a good ride and a privilege to be a part of the success here at SOU. And I have every intention to continue being a part of the SOU community even after my time as president comes to an end.”